Recreational Vehicles and Trailers Handbook

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Section 13 of 16

Driving Your RV Safely

It’s fun traveling with your RV as you explore the different regions of the country. However, it can be dangerous if you are not familiar with the differences that your RV’s weight, size, and visibility demands of your driving. The transition from driving the family car to driving an RV is different, but not necessarily difficult. The points discussed below will help you to be a safe RV driver.

RV Heights

Most RVs are taller than passenger vehicles so you will need to learn quickly about the height clearance of roads, service station canopies, bridges, and to watch for low-hanging obstacles such as tree branches. Your owner’s manual, RV dealer, and RV manufacturer are the best sources for helping you determine the maximum road height for your RV. Once you know the maximum road height, post it somewhere on the RV or tow vehicle so it will always be handy as a reference.

RV Lengths

Many highways either restrict or recommend non-use for vehicles over a certain length. California Vehicle Code §35400 restricts the operation of housecars over 40 feet to only specified highways and within one mile on either side of those highways for access to fuel, food, or lodging. These highways include, but are not always limited to, the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and all state routes. For exceptions to this list, visit the Caltrans website at:

Maneuvering the RV

The additional weight, height, width, and length of an RV makes it less maneuverable than a passenger vehicle. A safe maneuver in your family car may be dangerous in an RV. Since it is heavier, an RV may not stop as quickly so you will need more following distance. Defensive driving in an RV requires making changes slowly, braking gradually, and being familiar with its handling characteristics.


Most RVs are heavier than passenger vehicles and require greater braking distances. You must allow more time for the vehicle to slow or stop. If you are towing an RV, you must also worry about brake fade. Brake fade can happen when the brakes are overheated from prolonged use or the brakes are out of alignment. To help avoid brake fade on downgrades, use the lower gears to allow the engine to help slow the vehicle.


RVs are naturally slower than passenger vehicles. It takes longer to climb a hill in an RV because it’s heavier than a passenger vehicle. Keep this in mind, practice good manners, and observe the law by using turnouts when there are five or more vehicles behind you that wish to pass. The drivers behind you will be able to see ahead more easily if you try not to drive next to the center of the lane. If you are traveling with other RVs in a caravan, be sure to leave enough space between your RV and the RV in front of you for other drivers to enter when they want to pass.

Safety Belts

Always wear your safety belt when driving. Even though many RVs accommodate passengers in places where safety belts are not required by federal law (i.e., dining table), if the area has a safety belt-wear it. Riding in a place which is not equipped with a safety belt increases the danger of injury in case of a collision.

Weather Conditions

Bad weather conditions such as wind, fog, snow, and ice are hazards to all drivers. An RV driver has an advantage over drivers of other passenger vehicles because of the added weight over the drive wheels. This gives the vehicle better traction in bad weather. However, its added weight can also make it more difficult to move if it gets stuck. Plan your trips to avoid bad weather conditions as much as possible.

Remember, if hazardous weather conditions require the use of windshield wipers you must also turn on your headlights.

RVs Towing Cars or Other Vehicles

Towing small cars behind an RV has become a popular way of providing transportation after the RV is parked at a campsite. Towing a car differs from towing travel trailers or fifth-wheel trailers. Very little hitch weight is involved when the car is towed on all four wheels and only minimal hitch weight is involved when the car is towed on a dolly.

If you wish to tow a vehicle behind your RV, you need to consider whether or not your motor home can handle the extra weight under all conditions (i.e., climbing steep hills or mountains). Your vehicle must have sufficient power to climb grades without holding up traffic and its braking power must be sufficient to stop the combined weight of the RV plus the car and/or tow dolly effectively. RV chassis manufacturers provide limits on the gross combined weight of the RV plus car.

If you are towing a car, be sure the hitch attachment on the RV is secure. Hitch weight ratings are usually stamped on the hitch assemblies. The tow bar attachment is also a concern because of the integrated frame construction used in most small cars. If you use a tow bar, safety chains are required, but a breakaway switch is not. Fully operational tail, brake, and turn signal lights are required on the towed car.

It’s easy to forget you are towing a car when driving a large RV because you can’t see it. So remember to allow extra space when entering a freeway or passing another vehicle so you won’t cut off the other driver. Your vehicle combination cannot exceed 65 feet. However, cities and counties may prohibit vehicle combination lengths over 60 feet, when posted (CVC §35401).

One other thing to consider-you may only tow one vehicle with your noncommercial Class A, B, or C driver license. You may not tow two vehicles or trailers with a noncommercial Class A, B, or C driver license. EXAMPLE: You cannot tow a boat trailer and a car behind your vehicle.